BY JURRY TAALIB-DEEN
Journal Staff Writer
Hundreds of Toledo students from public, private, Catholic and charter schools attended the 29th Annual Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth, sponsored by Toledo Excel Saturday, Jan. 26, the University of Toledo’s Student Union Auditorium.
The theme for the conference was, “The Bigger Picture: Understanding Your Role in the Global Community.”
Merida Allen, associate director for Toledo Excel, said the event is the longest free standing conference in the nation and its target audience is students grades seven through 12 in the Toledo area.
Alexis Means, local media personality, served as the mistress of ceremonies. Toledo EXCEL students Cheyenne Dye and Colleen Anderson served as co-hostesses.
Local educators, politicians and community leaders briefly commented on the topic and the benefits of the program.
Kevin Powell, community activist and award-winning writer for publications such as The Washington Post, Ebony and Rolling Stone, delivered the keynote address.
After the lecture, Powell answered questions from students. Then, break-out sessions on the topics of how to deal with bulling, how an artist can participate in community art ventures and how to prepare for a career in law, were facilitated by area educators and professionals for a more interactive approach for the students.
“We really want to focus on how students can become active locally, nationally and ultimately, internationally when it comes to the realms of academics and community service,” Allen said. “We want our students to be academically sound so they’ll be more marketable.”
When Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, UT’s president, opened with a greeting from the school.
“Overcome your fear of math,” Jacobs said. “No matter your occupation, you can’t fully participate in the 21st century if you don’t understand math.”
After his brief comments, each of the other speakers touched upon the theme, as well as the importance of mathematics.
“I am a genius,” repeated those in the auditorium after Kevin Powell requested they do so. He laughed and said he noticed just as many adults repeating it as students.
“Don’t be the ceiling that blocks your own progress;” meaning, don’t be an obstacle for your own growth, Powell said.
The Rutgers University graduate and author of 11 books spoke about his upbringing. Similar to many young people in 2013, Powell, 46, said he grew up in extreme poverty and had to place cardboard in his shoes to cover the holes.
He said his mother only had an eighth-grade education. But she is “the smartest person I ever met.”
“I refuse to believe that just a few of you are academically exceptional,” he said. “I believe everyone is intellectually gifted.”
He then gave the students a directive.
“Have swag in every aspect of your life,” he said.
Powell told them that education should be viewed as everything that affects them and that they should approach and apply it with “swag.”
“If education tells you that Columbus discovered America and you see that, through your studying, that statement is false, say to that person, ‘I respectfully disagree,’” he said.
Powell told the students to read more.
“If you read, you’re less likely to refer to yourself as the ‘N word’ or as a ‘B,’” Powell said.
After his presentation, Powell answered questions from the audience
Erica Besteder asked, “How would a young person inspire another young people?”
Be humble and don’t talk down to him or her, Powell responded. Then, talk about something they like or can relate to, he said.
Toledo EXCEL is a scholarship incentive program that prepares minority students for success in college by involving them in campus visits, academic retreats, and financial aid advising and academic and cultural field trips throughout the United States.
Toledo EXCEL will be launching their recruitment effort for 2013 on Feb. 1. Applications for enrollment can be found at www.utoledo.edu/success/excel.